Hurricane Harvey, a category 4 hurricane, first struck the Texas Gulf Coast on the evening of Aug. 25, 2017. After coming ashore, the hurricane stalled and remained a category 3 hurricane for 5 days before exiting back out into the Gulf of Mexico. Fourteen counties in the Rio Texas Conference were impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Primary damage of the service area was due to wind. Many structures were completely destroyed while many more lost roofs in the initial storm or were damaged by falling limbs and trees. The initial impact was bad enough, but the following 5 days of rain exacerbated the situation with extensive water damage to homes.
The Rio Texas Conference has never experienced a disaster of this magnitude impacting homes across two districts and damaging 44 churches. At the same time, our country experienced multiple back-to-back disasters stretching nonprofit, faith, state and federal resources beyond capacity.
Amidst the turmoil, Methodists stepped forward: sending supplies, financial donations, and ERT teams responding from across the country to meet the needs of mucking and gutting, tarping roofs, removing fallen trees, and more.
While the response phase was underway, the Rio Texas Conference Disaster Response began building the infrastructure for the rebuilding and recovery that will take about three to five years to complete. We established volunteer villages in Victoria and Sinton to support the Crossroads and Coastal Bend areas. We began hiring and training case management staff in November and have opened case management offices in Victoria and Aransas Pass. We have hired construction supervisors and are actively seeking construction project managers to provide support and direction to volunteer teams on job sites. In December, we launched a stand-alone website, www.riotexasresponse.org, to help communicate our efforts to survivors and volunteers. Volunteer team leaders can register their interest in sending teams, learn about housing, download forms, and share their stories after their service!
We are partnering with established long-term recovery groups to support their efforts, identify needs, and fund rebuilding and recovery needs identified through case management. Our case management offices, in partnership with our volunteer and construction supervision, will also be responding to areas not served by a long-term recovery group.
We are working hard to identify the underserved and vulnerable clients impacted by Hurricane Harvey. These families and individuals are struggling with many emotions: frustration, exhaustion, confusion, and grateful for someone willing to help navigate the complicated process. From their perspective and ours, nothing feels like it is moving quickly enough. VIM teams began arriving the day after Christmas to replace roofs and install drywall in Columbus, Woodsboro, and Rockport. To be honest, we weren’t quite ready, but grace was with us and miracles happened for several homeowners! This is a learning process for all of us and each new day brings good progress in recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
The Rio Texas Conference Disaster Recovery is committed to being in these communities until the rebuilding is complete. The volunteer and financial support provided by the North Texas Conference will be vital as we work to manage the limited resources for rebuilding efforts. This long journey of rebuilding cannot be done by any of us alone, but requires all United Methodists working together through the connection. What a blessing to be in ministry with each of you and the families who need us!